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Guide To Vaping Part I: The Basics/E-Liquid

E-cigs come in an almost impossible variety of shapes and sizes, but work in largely the same way. While certain devices have functional differences and distinctive appearances, they all contain the same key parts: a battery, an atomizer (or cartomizer), and e-liquid.

The battery energizes a coil of resistance wire (kanthal or nichrome) which heats a liquid solution in order to produce vapor.  If everything is done correctly, the result should be a satisfying and heavy cloud of vapor. Since every e-cig has a learning curve, onVaping has a guide to get you there!

basic principle

Pictured above: two coils of 28 AWG Kanthal resistance wire paired with a cotton wick on a Helios atomizer by Vape Head Origins.

The part that harbors the wick and coil portion of the vaporizer is called an “atomizer,” or a “cartomizer.” If you can’t tell the difference, a cartomizer is a cylinder that contains polyfill. If you’re looking at a cig-a-like, the cartomizer typically resembles the filter of a cigarette.

The section that powers the atomizer and contains the battery is called a “mod,” but I’ll also refer to it simply as a “battery.” On a cig-a-like, this is the “paper/tobacco” section– usually the battery compartment is larger than the atomizer.

Naturally, you might be wondering just what’s in that satisfying cloud of vapor. How can it curb the craving for cigarettes? Is it healthy? Let’s take a look:

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Also referred to by the less scientifically inclined as “e-juice,” this term refers to a solution of the following:

Propylene Glycol/Vegetable Glycerin

Propylene glycol is a “GRAS,” or “generally recognized as safe” product that has been used in food, preservatives, beauty products and various forms of medicine.  PG differs from VG in that it is typically more flavorful, less likely to leave build-up on coils, and is much less viscous. This means that the more PG you have in your solution, the thinner it will be—this is typically important to remember if you use a cartomizer tank.

Vegetable Glycerin has many of the same uses as its thinner counterpart, with no known medical concerns having risen from any application. Though VG is viscous and moves slowly, it tends to produce excellent vapor quantity with an efficient enough wicking system.

It’s best to start with a 50/50 ratio and see how your device performs with it before buying more liquid. Cartomizer users may want to consider punching extra holes in their cartos, or using a higher concentration of PG. Advanced users who sport rebuildable devices often use max VG solutions for optimal vapor production.


Though I have a few friends who use zero nicotine e-liquid, most of us substitute this hobby for our cigarette addiction. Because of this, almost every e-liquid vendor in the United States has a nicotine option.

In this “field of science,” nicotine levels are measured in mg/ml. The most frequently made mixes are 6, 12, 18, and 24mg/ml. The more effective your vaporizer, the less nicotine you’ll need in your liquid (as you’ll be inhaling a larger quantity of nicotine-infused vapor). 24mg/ml might be necessary for a heavy smoker using a small beginner device, but most experienced users will use 3-12mg liquids.


E-liquid manufacturers typically flavor their products with extracts and flavorings common to various foods, baked goods and candies. You would be hard-pressed to think of a favorite flavor that hasn’t already been the inspiration for an e-liquid solution. Some flavorings are known to damage any plastic e-cig components. Certain cinnamon, anise, citrus and menthol flavors are very common culprits for this.

As a general rule, it’s always best to research an e-liquid before you buy it, and especially before you fill your favorite tank with it. You can find a list of flavors known to crack tanks with a simple google query. Buying premium, American-made liquid may seem much more expensive, but consumers often find that enhanced flavor is worth the extra price. Buying a product you intend to inhale should be an informed process, and you should purchase accordingly.

Thanks for reading; I’ll be back next time with a quick breakdown of the different types of personal vaporizers.



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